The suladis were a form of poetry that was introduced in this world by the Haridasa of Karnataka.
The word Suladi comes from the Sanskrit word Suda, which means gita. The Suladi is a composition rather very similar to the gita, another musical genre, in its arrangement and its musical structure. ("suLAdi" in Kannada means sulabhada hAdi - an easy route to invoke the blessings of Shri Hari-Vayu-Guru's and to reach Shri Hari's abode.)
Musicians and musicologist trace the origin of Suladis to Salaga Suda (prabandha). The Salaga Suda was first described in detail in the 13th century by Sarangadeva. These prabhandas comprised seven closely related sub-types all of the same tala. The first recorded Salaga Suda Prabhanda was called Dhruva Salaga Prabhanda and Sripadaraja, an incarnation of Dhruva, was among the first to use this form.
The content of the suladis by the Haridasa is more devotional and they are composed in different tempos such as vilambita, madhya and druta.
In a Suladi, each section is independent by itself. The pallavi(Pallavi generally is a single-line composition set to a single cycle of tala. The tala could range from the simple to the complex and there may also be different gatis being employed). is not sung at the conclusion of each section in a Suladi. In Suladis, some sections are sung in different tempos.
The suladi starts in Malavagaula and ends with Sriraga. The other ragas used in between are Daruva, Matya, Rupaka, Jhampa, Trivida, Ata and Eka.
Usually, Haridasas, who were masters of music and literature, composed their suladis in such a manner that a given Suladi will have a single raaga but multiple talas-generally seven. These talas will be set in place in a Suladi in succeeding parts. Sometimes, the Haridasas are such intricate masters of this genre that there is a variation in raaga too. As such, it is not easy to compose Suladis. It requires mastery over music to render them properly. All the suladis of Haridasas have mythological, spiritual and religious themes. They do have an undercurrent of ethics too.
The Suladi is unique in the sense that for centuries after Sripadaraja it was composed only by Haridasas
The first among the Haridasas and saint-composers of Karnataka to use this form extensively to express his devotion to Hari was Sripadaraja (1412-1504) of Mulabagal near Kolar in Karnataka.
Sripadaraja used the suladi to describe Hari and he taught this form to his favourite disciple, Vyasa Raja or Vyasa Theertha (1447-1539)who then passed it on to Purandara Dasa, Kanaka Dasa, Belur Vaikunta Dasa of the Dasa Koota and Vadiraja Theertha, Vijendra Theertha of the Vyasa Koota.
Apart from Sripadaraya, other Dwaitha saints and Haridasas who composed Suladis were Vyasa Raya (1447-1539), Purandara Dasa (1484-1564), Kanaka Dasa (1509-1609) Vadiraja (1480-1600), Vijaya Dasa (1682-1755), Gopala Dasa (1722-1762) and Jagannatha Dasa of Manvi (1722-1809).
However, it must be remembered that it was Narahari Theertha, one of the four direct disciples of Madhwacharya, who first used this form to address Sri Hari. However, these suladis were in Sanskrit and his ankita here was Raghu Kula. After him, it fell into disuse and it was left to Sripadaraja to popularise it and compose in Kannada.
Sripadaraja taught the nuances of suladi to Vyasa Raja who in turn handed the baton to Purandara Dasa.
Purandara Dasa used the Suladi to focus on the conflicts of human life and Kanaka Dasa
uses them to demolish the caste system. Vijaya Dasa uses them to exhort people to surrender to Hari and not to lead a decadent life.
Thus we see that the Suladi is an important vehicle for the Haridasas to give us a unique and thought provoking combination of intricate poetry with seamless music. The Suladis are lengthier compositions than the Ugabhogas and they are set to specific raagas and taalas.
Much earlier, in Karnataka, Purandara Dasa had written “navavidha bhakti prasamsa”, a Suladi where a particular bhakti mudra was introduced in each of the seven sections.
By the way, the only available three notated Suladis composed by Purandara Dasa are contained in the Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini written by Subbarama Dikshitar, a Telugu scholar and composer. It contains sections on composers, musicology and ragas of south Indian music. This book was first published in 1904.
Interestingly, Vyasa Raja follows his guru in writing a highly autobiographical suladi. In the Namasmarana Suladi, Vyas speaks of the many distractions and asks Hari to help him overcome them. He agrees that he has committed many sins and says he can get over them only by the grace of Sri Hari.
In Vyasa Raja’s next avatar as Raghavendra Swamy (1595-1671), he composed his only suladi- Avatara Traya Mukhyaprana Suladi – called Maruta Ninnaya Mahime.
Vijaya Dasa in his suladi, “Dasa Purandara,” praises Purandara Dasa as his guru. He has also composed a suladi detailing the greatness of Sripadaraja.
Jagannatha Dasa of Manvi composed a suladi on Narasimha. It is a beautiful song and it shows us how much this dasa was devoted to his Narasimha. Gopala Dasa has written the suladi Virachita Rayara. In another suladi, he describes how Narahari, Rama, Krishna, Veda Vyasa can be seen atop the Brindavana of rayaru in Mantralaya and how they accept the offerings.
Kanaka Dasa has set his songs to Suladi as it is his most preferred genre.
Almost all the Haridasas have wriiten suladis and it would be well impossible to enumerate all of them. The suladi was one of the most popular forms of expression and in them, the Haridasas restructured music, made it more appealing and soul stirring. The Haridasas hewed the system to ensure that the suladis became the vehicle for propagation of Dwaitha philosophy in which Hari was supreme and Taratamya a way of life.